Illustration of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy with neutral expressions on their faces

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

Start Free Trial

How does Caroline Bingley's letter affect Jane? How does it affect Elizabeth?

When Jane reads Caroline Bingley’s letter, she feels disappointed and upset at being rejected by Charles Bingley but believes that Caroline has good intentions. Elizabeth, however, is certain that Charles loves Jane and is resentful toward Caroline, whom she suspects of lying.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As the relationship develops between Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley, his sister Caroline becomes concerned that it is getting too serious. When the Bingleys leave their temporary residence at Netherfield Park and go to London, it is Caroline rather than Charles who writes to tell Jane about their change of plans. Charles had thought to stay only a few days, but Caroline says they will not return and are renting a house in London. When she receives and reads this letter, Jane shares it with Elizabeth.

As Jane reviews and reads aloud each sentence, she increasingly loses her composure, but she credits Caroline with showing good will and kindness. She is not only disturbed that Charles is not coming back but she also believes that he is rejecting her. Caroline has written that they will be seeing a lot of Georgiana, Fitzwilliam Darcy’s younger sister, and gushes about a connection—and possible future match—between Charles and Georgiana. Typical of Jane, who always thinks the best of everyone, she thinks that Caroline is “most kindly” warning her of Charles’s “indifference.”

Elizabeth’s perspective is quite the opposite. She is sure that Charles is in love with Jane and that he wants to return and court her. She feels “utter contempt” for Caroline’s reasons and tells Jane that it is Caroline who wants him to stay in London. Determined to cover up the depth of Charles’s affection for Jane, Caroline is exaggerating his interest in Georgiana. She strongly suspects that Caroline’s self-interest is paramount in these arrangements. A marriage between Charles and Georgiana could facilitate her own match with Darcy. Lizzie manages to convince Jane of Charles’s love but not that Caroline is deliberately deceiving her.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Chapter 21, Jane receives a letter from Caroline Bingley informing her that she and her brother have left the countryside for London, where, she says, her brother will be happy to be reunited with Georgiana Darcy. Jane, who is not predisposed to see evil in others' intentions, believes that the letter signifies Bingley's loss of interest in her and his intention to marry Georgiana Darcy. Jane is upset by receiving the letter.

Elizabeth, more inclined to interpret people's motives, believes that Caroline knows that her brother cares deeply for Jane and that Caroline wants to interrupt Bingley's relationship with Jane by going to London. In addition, Elizabeth believes that Caroline wants her brother to marry Georgiana so that Caroline can get closer to Darcy, whom she wants to marry. Elizabeth tells Jane that the letter reflects Caroline's feelings, not those of Bingley. Elizabeth's dislike of Caroline grows as a result of hearing the content of the letter.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

At the beginning of chapter 24, Miss Bingley sends Jane a letter. While we do not get to read the letter, its contents are summarized for us: Instead of communicating any intention on Bingley's part to propose to Jane, Miss Bingley describes the growing intimacy between the Darcys and the Bingleys. Miss Bingley praises Miss Darcy and is delighted that Mr. Bingley is staying at the Darcy house in London. It looks as if the match Miss Bingley hopes for between her brother and Miss Darcy is steadily moving forward.

Elizabeth reacts to this news with silent anger ("indignation" is the word Austen uses). She can't stop dwelling on it: "She could think of nothing else." She believes Bingley still has affection for Jane, doesn't believe Bingley cares at all about Miss Darcy, and feels angry at Bingley for what she sees as his weakness of character. To her mind, Bingley has allowed his friends to influence him against his heart and his own best interests. As she puts it to herself, Bingley had been made "the slave of designing friends" and has "sacrifice[d] his own happiness" to them. She starts to despise his ease and flexibility.

Jane is so upset by the letter that she can't talk about it for a "day or two." When she does confide in Elizabeth, she exhibits a poise and equanimity that contrasts with Elizabeth's anger. She insists she will soon get over her feelings for Mr. Bingley, saying: "He shall be forgot, and we shall all be as we were before." Jane tells Elizabeth not to blame anyone for what happened.

Elizabeth is astonished at Jane's response and calls her "angelic." When Jane protests, Elizabeth says she is determined to think her "perfect."

Their different reactions to this painful letter throw into relief the different personalities of the two sisters: Elizabeth is impulsive, quick to anger, and emotional while Jane has greater self-control, is more generous about people, and has more ability to take a longer view of events. 

This letter also sets up a dynamic that allows us to better understand Elizabeth's fury when she finds out that Darcy separated Jane and Bingley.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team